OPINION | On Trump-Russia probe, don’t underestimate Sen. Chuck Grassley
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Amid a handful of congressional probes, one that may be getting the least attention has the potential for the biggest bang.

My former boss, Republican Sen. Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyOn The Money: Power players play chess match on COVID-19 aid | Pelosi bullish, Trump tempers optimism | Analysis: Nearly 1M have run out of jobless benefits Grassley: Voters should be skeptical of Biden's pledge to not raise middle class taxes GOP to Trump: Focus on policy MORE of Iowa, just called Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpObama slams Trump in Miami: 'Florida Man wouldn't even do this stuff' Trump makes his case in North Carolina, Ohio and Wisconsin Pence's chief of staff tests positive for COVID-19 MORE Jr. and Paul Manafort to testify before his powerful Senate Judiciary Committee, after this week’s revelations that the two sat down with a Russian lawyer who dangled political dirt on Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonObama slams Trump in Miami: 'Florida Man wouldn't even do this stuff' Ballot initiatives in Colorado, Louisiana could restrict abortion access Trump mocks Joe Biden's drive-in rallies at North Carolina event MORE.

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No surprise. This is the Grassley I have known for over 30 years — fearless, nonpartisan, stubborn, dogged when it comes to oversight — regardless of who is in the White House. In a Congress of foxes who know many things and hedgehogs who know one thing, when it comes to oversight, Grassley is king of the hedgehogs — with a singular focus on openness, transparency and accountability that serves him well.

 

What is surprising is that the senator from Iowa is still underestimated. The simple reality is that Grassley’s track record of successful oversight is unmatched by any of his colleagues in the current Congress. He has turned a myriad of government agencies, corporations and public entities upside down (or perhaps right side up) — going back to the Department of Defense in the 1980s to most recently the disasters at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

In addition, Grassley’s oversight has brought sunshine and disinfectant to the Red Cross, defense industry, charities, universities, hospitals, churches, tax shelters, nursing homes, corporations, the IRS, AmeriCorps, the healthcare industry, the FBI — on and on and on.

Inevitably, whoever is the subject of Grassley’s oversight whines into the dark — “why is he picking on me?”

The answer is, Grassley isn’t picking on you — Grassley does oversight on everyone. He is not motivated by animus or politics. He is motivated to find the truth and to protect the taxpayer — and the whistleblower.

I recognize that in our cynical and divisive days these words sound like a Frank Capra movie, but I would tell you having been at the right hand of Sen. Grassley’s oversight for many years and that is the simple reality.

Of particular relevance to today’s news is Grassley’s oversight of law enforcement and especially the FBI, something that Grassley has been doing since the earth cooled. His reputation for fearless tough questioning and oversight of the FBI and law enforcement is well known — just look at the root canal without anesthesia he performed on the FBI labs starting in the late 1990s.

It’s why I suspect the FBI and former FBI officials can’t run fast enough to stay away from hearings in front the Senate Judiciary Committee and seek to find friendlier forums.

Grassley is the one to watch because there is simply no moving him. The FBI tried to intimidate him years ago and got nowhere.

The Defense Department whispered about his patriotism — to no avail.

Senate leadership learned long ago that he cannot be dissuaded. Invariably it turns out that everyone Grassley investigates has a cousin from Iowa, went to school in Iowa or bought gas in Iowa — that gets you nowhere (although Grassley would invariably know your cousin).

Also frustrating to his opponents, his oversight can’t be attacked as partisan — he is happy to work with his colleagues on both sides of the aisle and in both houses. His oversight labors on regardless of who is in the White House. There is hardly an investigation I can think of when Grassley was chairman/ranking member of the Finance Committee from 2001-2008, when we didn’t work closely with the ranking member, Sen. Max BaucusMax Sieben BaucusBottom line Bottom line The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - George Floyd's death sparks protests, National Guard activation MORE (D-Mont.).

In addition, it matters in oversight that it isn’t your first time to the state fair (although do try anything deep-fried). Grassley and his staff have a wealth of experience and knowledge in oversight — and aren’t caught up with just the circus of hearings — but instead do the less glamorous but hard work of letters, interviews and follow-up that is invariably far more productive and effective than trying to pin down a witness in a five minute exchange.

Elected officials that think they are doing oversight by doing a drive-by shooting of coming to a hearing and asking what they view as a tough question and getting a vague non-answer are kidding themselves.

Finally, Grassley is the patron saint for whistleblowers — and whistleblowers trust him and come to him and provide him the story behind the story. He’s not shy about seeking their input, soliciting it on his website.

Time and time again it is the whistleblower — whether Fred Whitehurst on the FBI labs or Ernie Fitzgerald’s calling out Defense Department waste that have made much of Grassley’s oversight possible and successful.

There is a reason why when you Google “Grassley” and “whistleblower” you get over 200,000 hits. He recognizes the importance of whistleblowers, he listens to them and he protects them. It is no wonder that he and Sen. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenPlaintiff and defendant from Obergefell v. Hodges unite to oppose Barrett's confirmation Senate Democrats call for ramped up Capitol coronavirus testing House Democrats slam FCC chairman over 'blatant attempt to help' Trump MORE (D-Ore.) started the Whistleblower Caucus — recognizing the importance of supporting whistleblowers.

Perhaps Grassley’s attitude to oversight is best encapsulated by a phone call I took from the grand man of whistleblowers — Ernie Fitzgerald, who was illegally fired by Richard Nixon and then reinstated — while standing outside Grassley’s office.

Ernie didn’t want to take the senator’s time but wanted to buck him up during a tough time and just said in his strong Alabama drawl, “Tell Chuck one thing: John 8:32.”

Without missing a beat, Grassley said “Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” Don’t be distracted by the foxes, focus on the hedgehog.

Dean Zerbe was active in congressional investigations of government waste, fraud, and abuse for 25 years. Dean left Congress in 2008 where his last position was as Senior Counsel and Tax Counsel on the Senate Finance Committee for Sen. Charles E. Grassley. Dean also served as Sen. Grassley's Chief Investigative Counsel on the Finance Committee for a number of years prior to being appointed senior counsel.


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